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Turn Your Computer Into a Party Animal

March 22, 2001|JINNY GUDMUNDSEN | jinny@choosingchildrenssoftware.com

You can use the computer to create a special birthday party relatively cheaply. With the IntelPlay ME2Cam Computer Video Camera and Fun Fair package and "Hoyle Board Games 2001," you can put together a fun afternoon that's a mix of modern and traditional.

The IntelPlay ME2Cam Computer Video Camera and Fun Fair is a video camera and CD-ROM package that uses revolutionary software to create a truly one-of-a-kind computer experience. The camera attaches to the top of your computer monitor.

When a child stands in front of the camera and moves, the software replaces whatever is in the background with one of five video game environments--essentially putting the kid in the game. Kids control the game by moving their bodies.

The five virtual environments are:

* Pinball: The player becomes the bumpers and flippers within a virtual pinball game.

* Bubble Mania: Children pop floating balloons by jumping up to make contact. Some balloons even encapsulate the player.

* The Fun Zone: Players explore wacky mirrors, a costume closet, a shrinking machine and a lab with an X-ray machine.

* Club Tune: As players move their feet to the music, they affect the tempo.

* Snow Surfin': Children surf down a slope full of obstacles including skiing polar bears, crazy penguins and giant moguls.

The Me2Cam Computer Video Camera is easy to set up and install. The camera plugs into a USB port, and the software comes with a tutorial that helps you create the right game-play area. I had to adjust the lighting in the room, but the instruction booklet led me through the process. My kid testers were snowboarding in no time.

The software periodically takes snapshots of the players and stores them in a photo album. These photos are printable and make great party favors.

Kids went wild over the activity and couldn't wait for a turn.

The only hitch is that, at times, it is hard to get the camera to register certain movements. Since participants use their body rather than a mouse, transitioning from one video environment to another was sometimes a challenge. Likewise, it took kid testers several tries before they successfully activated the "exit" button.

With IntelPlay ME2Cam Computer Video Camera and Fun Fair, you create a party that guests will talk about for a long time.

Although not as overtly high-tech, "Hoyle Board Games 2001" offers a good time with 16 board games on one CD-ROM. With no board or parts to worry about, this is an easy way to play a wide variety of games--including backgammon, checkers, chess, dominoes, Mancala, Reversi, Pachisi and Snakes & Ladders.

To use this software in a party situation, plan a Games Olympics. Use a poster board to chart the games in the competition and award specific points for wins. Some of the games in "Hoyle Board Games 2001" allow as many as four players at once.

In those situations, award points for each of the finishing places--perhaps 4 points for first place and 1 point for fourth. It's a good idea to include some additional physical games that are played away from the computer.

A particular favorite in this compilation of games is "Placer Racer," in which players attempt to clear the marbles that are stacked at the top of the screen. When a set of marbles is erased, it shows up on your opponent's screen. The player whose screen fills up with marbles loses.

Games such as these provide a springboard for conversation and interaction among the kids at the party.

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Jinny Gudmundsen is editor of Choosing Children's Software magazine.

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